Features - Interview

JUNE 1, 1991

Michael Kranefuss


Michael Kranefuss oversees all Ford motor sport programmes in the world - and has to report back to the top management of the Ford Motor Company. It can be a very stressful job. Kranefuss spends a great deal of his time involved in Ford's Formula 1 project - a programme which is sometimes hard to justify.

Michael Kranefuss oversees all Ford motor sport programmes in the world - and has to report back to the top management of the Ford Motor Company. It can be a very stressful job. Kranefuss spends a great deal of his time involved in Ford's Formula 1 project - a programme which is sometimes hard to justify.

'As far as Ford Motor Company management is concerned, it's not a very successful programme,' he admits. 'So at the very best you get a sort of lukewarm support - and rightfully so. Nobody will screw with a very successful programme and the programmes I am running which are successful I have no issues with - even with bad times as far as the industry is concerned.

'It's not really that important what our management thinks because we have a fairly open-minded company. I've been doing this for the better part of 25 years now and I can do my things as long as I believe they are right. I have to fight for them - like anything else in life - and if it means more money you have to fight for it. It goes for all the motorsports programmes - all Ford Motor Company's car programmes. Everything is constantly under review. We are asking: "Is there anything we should change?" That applies to F1 too.

'At the moment F1 is definitely an issue in the light of the fact of how much money it costs and what we've been doing since we came back with the turbo in 1986.

'There are reasons for it and now you can explain everything. We have made a lot of mistakes and, with us, everyone else who was involved.

'We were never ready. We either had an engine situation which looked hopeful and a car situation which wasn't sorted out, or we had an extremely good car and we didn't have an aggressive engine development programme. For whatever reasons. With the benefit of hindsight you can explain a lot of things and form - for reasons of sanity - I wouldn't say excuses, but explanations.

'For me the only thing that matters is success on a race track and that is how you can evaluate the success of a racing programme. That has not happened with the F1 programme and this is a problem which is close to killing me - honestly. It's not very funny.'

Does the Ford top management, in its American environment, understand the way that F1 operates and some of the problems involved?

'No,' admits Kranefuss and for that they are paying people like myself, so there is someone who can give them a view. I think that's probably one of the reasons why I am still around is because I never lie. I never lie to my management and if I made a mistake - and I've made quite a few - I am the first one to tell them.

'But the question is not so much management and money. The question is what sort of flavour this whole project has, and it's not very successful. A lot of people feel a little dragged if you bring it up, but you have to, because F1 has reached such levels.

'Years ago I could probably have made a decision about a new F1 engine. Today it almost goes to the board and, subsequently, you have exposed yourself much more. If you are not successful and you are spending a lot of money people want to know what on earth are we doing here? Are there any other benefits in marketing, television, media and so on and so forth? That brings up a very sore point with me because I fail to see a good, healthy direction in F1.

'F1 should be the playground for ultra technology, but it should have a direction that makes a little more sense. It cannot be game of horsepower alone. That is not what the industry needs. It should be a package where we can benefit.

'We have others programmes which are strictly entertainment - with very little technical involvement, such as stock car racing in America and touring car racing, but F1 is different.

'I think we've got the brightest engineers in F1 and if you give those guys goals which have some long-term meaning to the industry, I think we'd be a lot healthier - and not just in F1.

'Look how rallying has evolved. For a number of years you have had people in rallying with throwaway gearboxes. You've got throwaway turbochargers lined up, and every special stage you just throw in a new one. You've got tyre deals which cost the manufacturers millions of pounds just to get them. That's not what rallying is all about.

'I used to blame FISA for this lack of vision, but I have altered my viewpoint a little bit. I think the manufacturers together are as guilty as anyone. When someone sees an opportunity, off he goes all of a sudden in the wrong direction and everyone follows. FISA seems to have the view that things can only be successful if big money is involved. I'm not opposed to spending money if it makes sense and I'm not trying to take anything away from racing but today's automotive engineering is about packaging. You want to have a car which is ergonomically right. The engines are supposed to be getting smaller, you want to know about electronics, you want to know about materials - all the stuff that Ford is doing in F1 but, since it is now only a horsepower game, we finally realised that we weren't getting any response, so we said, "Okay, we'll do a twelve cylinder engine, just to see which one is better".

'That doesn't mean that my position, or the position of the Ford Motor Company, has changed. I don't think there's any company more involved in racing than Ford and we've supported FISA from day one, but I fail to see any long-term thinking and planning there. And I think it is going to hurt the sport.

'In the last year and a half it is not so much mechanical evolution in the engines that has been going on, it's just chemical stuff. You are getting a lot more out of today's fuels than you are getting out of the mechanicals.

'This is detrimental to what we and the oil companies are trying to do with our mainstream products. We are concerned about the fact that F1 might be toxic more than anything.

'I would like to see F1 racing fuels which are a step in the right direction in respect to environmentally-friendly fuels in the future. I know that a lot of people think I am crazy because they just cannot see the point in this. They believe that racing has nothing to do with the environment, noise emissions or whatever. That's not the point. We have pushed F1, and a lot of other forms of racing, to a level where it is getting much more exposure and I think it is very dangerous to sit here and pretend that we don't have to change and that these things don't really apply to us.

'I have tried to talk to Honda, Renault and Ferrari about this, and I could have had a couple of beers instead. Nothing. It's only a horsepower game. I'm not trying to make excuses for our programme - but that's the way it is...'

Kranefuss admits that Ford does not spend as much on F1 than its competitors Honda, Renault or Fiat (Ferrari).

'I know what we are spending,' he admits, 'and you, if you believe the numbers people mention in respect of the Honda programme or Ferrari, you can make an anology: we shouldn't even qualify if the numbers are the only indications that this is what you have to do. I think we've got a pretty good set-up. Are we going bananas? Definitely not. Are we doing the same thing as Honda? Definitely not. Do we have the same number of people. No. But I don't think we have an engine that is that far away.'

But now, in an effort to run with the F1 pack, Ford has had to join it, with a V12 engine on the way.

'That's the way we are going to go,' explains Kranefuss, 'and the V12 engine is on schedule. The engine is going to be running by the end of this year but the package has to be at least as good as the one we are running at the moment before we are going to make the change. The whole thing comes down to how quickly can we have a package which works better than the current one. That's always been the plan.

But what about stories that Benetton will continue with V8s next year?

'Since we announced the V12 programme at the Canadian Grand Prix a couple of things have happened: Tom Walkinshaw has taken over part of the Benetton team. He's got the technical end of the business under his control and we have essentially agreed to take a "time out" while he assesses the team's capabilities; at the same time Cosworth is looking to see what its situation is.

'That's where we are at the moment and we are going to sit down together next week and discuss the plans which are beginning to shape up.'

And what about the plan to supply more V8 customer engines, has that changed since Canada?

'Well, obviously, I cannot speak for Eddie Jordan,' says Kranefuss, 'but it doesn't look like he's going to be running the Ford engine next year. It is possible then that Cosworth will pass those engines on to someone else, but that is highly unlikely. In fact, I would not agree to having another team for 1992. Basically,the idea of selling engines in 1992 has been shelved.'

What about Ford's other programmes? Which are the most successful?

'NASCAR stock car racing in America,' he replies. 'You have to understand that you will never be allowed to dominate Winston Cup racing as people are allowed to dominate racing in Europe. It's showbiz. It's entertainment on wheels, but it does work for you. It is basically Ford versus Chevrolet and certain driver names are associated with one make or the other. You see the response from the crowd when the drivers are getting introduced. It's a wonderful series to be involved in. They make a lot of mistakes too, but there's a guy who has only one thing in mind - make it a better show and keep the costs under control.

'On top of that we have a very successful light truck racing programme in the US which is very important in light of the fact that small trucks are a big seller. That's where we expect some growth to come from. We're also very successful in drag racing.'

What about sportscar racing? Would For consider being directly involved in the Sportscar World Championship?

'No. One of our policies is that we do not compete against sister divisions like Jaguar in sportscars. We have no interest in that. I don't think that you'll continue to see sportscar racing grow under the current set-up. I think next year will probably be a good year, but costs will go up until most of the manufacturers realise they cannot win, so they drop out or go somewhere else. At the end of the day you have a series that has killed all the privateers with one or two exceptions. The question that needs to be looked at is: "Is there a market for sportscars? Is there enough money to be able to support it?"

'You have to find a proper role for sportscars. Why isn't sporstcar racing getting anywhere? And what about rallying? These issues are not being addressed and that is something that bothers me quite a bit.

'I owe motorsport my life and I feel very sad about these things...